The Facts About 3-D TV: Is It Really Ready?


3-D movies and TV may be an iffy bet, but there's another kind of entertainment that may not only generate more enthusiasm for 3-D but be truly suited to it: video games.

There are several reasons 3-D and gaming are a good fit. The gaming audience is generally receptive to new technology (and typically has the disposable income for it), current-generation consoles and systems can generally support 3-D games and displays with only a firmware upgrade, and games are the kind of experience where 3-D adds something truly useful.

Previous stabs at 3-D gaming, such as 1995's Nintendo Virtual Boy, were clunky because they depended on technology that didn't work anywhere else. The newest gaming systems use the same 3-D system as the TV itself and can piggyback on that technology, just as they did with HD.

As with movies, not every game benefits from being 3-D, but those that do benefit quite a lot. Late last year, at Microsoft's Windows 7 launch in New York, I tried out the PC edition of Batman: Arkham Asylum using an active-shutter 3-D system on a Samsung 120-Hz plasma TV. The 3-D effect was satisfying, if a little dim, and any flickering from the shutters on the glasses was imperceptible.

3-D without glasses

One way 3-D could make major inroads against 2-D is via a display technology that doesn't require glasses. Science fiction has entertained concepts like this for decades -- a holographic image projected into the air, or displayed inside a cube or sphere. Such systems are still a long way off (although a company named SeeReal is working on a holographic 3-D system), but a number of companies are working on 3-D displays that use existing technologies in creative ways.

Most people reading this have seen a form of 3-D called lenticular 3-D, which uses a sheet of plastic lined with vertical grooves as a kind of lens to create a 3-D effect in postcards and public ads. A few companies are working on displays that use variations of this technology. An outfit called CubicVue sells a lenticular filter that is designed to fit over an existing display; the company also says its technology can be embedded in displays, which I imagine would give better results.

Display manufacturers aren't the only ones interested in 3-D sans glasses. Video game titan Nintendo's forthcoming handheld 3DS console is said to sport not only a 3-D display but possibly two cameras as well for player motion-tracking.


There will always be people who are driven to acquire the newest bleeding-edge technology, and those folks have probably already bought a 3-D TV. For the rest of us, it makes sense to wait until some of the kinks have been worked out of home 3-D display technology.

The truth is that 3-D isn't going to replace 2-D -- because there are plenty of reasons to keep 2-D. It's practical, effective and above all cheap. Almost every 3-D technology in existence today comes at a cost premium. Even when the costs fall, it will still be tougher to create 3-D content -- especially original 3-D and not something merely resynthesized from 2-D.

What 3-D has done and will continue to do is create a small but significant market for specialty content. It won't eclipse 2-D but rather will complement it -- the way netbooks and the iPad are flanking and accompanying conventional desktops and notebooks. And the move toward 3-D that doesn't require anything but our own two eyes to see it means the adventure into a new dimension has barely begun.

Serdar Yegulalp has been writing about computers and information technology for over 15 years for a variety of publications, includingInformationWeek and Windows Magazine.

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